"Hospitality to Words": Laura Riding's American Inheritance and Inheritors

Philip Rowland

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis situates the work of Laura Riding in an American tradition of “hospitality to words” extending from Emerson and Emily Dickinson through Gertrude Stein to John Ashbery and contemporary language-oriented writing. The theme is introduced in terms of her linguistic and spiritual ideal of home as a place of truthful speaking, related in turn to her identity as an American writer who renounced the craft of poetry in mid-career.
First, Riding’s poetry is “hospitable” in ways akin to Dickinson’s, broadly characterized by Riding’s term, “linguistic intimateness.” There are similarities in their word-conjunctions and styles of poetic argument, as well as their ideas of poetry as “house of possibility” and spiritual home. Riding’s work is then compared with that of her older friend of the late 1920s, Gertrude Stein. The chapter details the shift in Riding’s critical view of Stein; then focuses on the similarly “homely” characteristics of their prose writing and poetics, with particular reference made to Riding’s “Steinian” poems.
The central chapters clarify Riding’s conception of truth and related questions of authority, history and responsibility. Chapter 4 explains her poetic vision of “the end of the world” as the introduction to a new world and potentially a new home, and chapter 5 extends the account to include her post-poetic work, The Telling compared to her earlier, collaborative The World and Ourselves.
These concerns are then related to Riding’s poet-inheritors. Her acknowledged influence on John Ashbery is explained in terms of his “celebration” of the “failure” that Riding came to find in poetry; and the work of language-oriented writers including Carla Harryman and Lisa Samuels is shown to develop her critique of poetry’s truth-telling properties further. Finally, the thesis reflects on their thoroughly de-familiarizing “hospitality to words” in relation to the broader tradition described.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hampson, Robert, Supervisor
Award date1 Aug 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • Laura Riding
  • American Poetics
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Gertrude Stein
  • John Ashbery
  • Language writing

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